samedi, mars 07, 2009

The Two-Day, Four-Party Marathon


Well, considering that I had gotten home at 10h00 this morning, you’ll forgive me if I got up at 16h00. That’s just six hours of sleep, so it’s not really “sleeping in,” per se. Anyway, the rest of the “daytime” portion of my day was unexceptional. I fixed myself some eggs and tea, took care of some correspondence, and then started to catch up on my blog posts. Three hours later, it was already time for me to make my way out for the beginning of the night…a night that would last until tomorrow night, I might add.


My friend Janine (French gal living in Berlin) had invited me, Fantô + her crew, Bob & Donna + their Franco-Berliner friend and a few other people over to her place for an “apéro” (i.e., drinks and snacks) at around 21h00. But first, Fantômette had invited me to the apartment, where she was staying with her girlfriend and another friend of ours, for a few drinks there. So I headed over to this massive industrial Hof (warehouse) on Ritterstraße in Kreuzberg (near the Moritzplatz U-Bahn station, U-8) to find them. Apparently, some smart person had bought the whole top floor of the building on one side and turned it into a suite of studio apartments to be rented like hotel suites. It was kind of brilliant, really. It’s exactly what a tourist would want of Berlin: an über-modern apartment in a red-brick warehouse in a shabby-but-up-and-coming neighborhood.

Anyway, we hung out there for a while, had some drinks, retold stories of parties past and filled each other in on the details of the night before (we had parted ways at Golden Gate). By about 21h00, we started walking our way over to Janine’s place. It took us a bit of time to find the right street, but eventually we got there and met up with the rest of the crew. Bob & Donna were there along with their Franco-Berliner friend (let’s call him Foster), a German girl who was a close friends of Janine, two British guys that Janine knew, a woman from North Carolina that lives in Berlin now, and the girls whose birthday it was the last time I was in town and I hung out with Janine.

Janine’s “apéro” spread was actually close to a full dinner made of finger-foods, including piles of crackers, dips, olives cheeses and so on. After a while, she emerged with pieces of cheese and salmon-spinach quiches, and later she materialized with cake and ice cream. And all the time, of course, she was plying us with wine and/or liquor. I managed to restrain myself from overeating, since I’ve learned from experience that eating just before a big night out tends to weigh me down and sap my energy.

I had a great time hanging out and talking to the folks at the party, although I’ll admit that I ended up speaking almost exclusively with the two british guys and the American girl, since they were the only people I hadn’t met before. I can’t remember all of the conversation, but I do recall that I gave the most lucid summary of my dissertation project so far; now if only I could remember what I said…

12h30: The False Start

At around 12h30, we began moving. Janine’s German girlfriend was going to Arena club to see a friend, Foster was heading to bed to meet us later at Berghain, everyone else was going to check out the “Champagnerama” party going on at the old Kindl brewery, and I was going to meet a friend from the Chicago scene at Kinski’s (and then meeting up with the rest of the crew at the Kindl brewery).

I headed over to Kinski’s, which was only two blocks away from Janine’s place, but I didn’t see my friend. I gave her a call to see if she was still coming, but I didn’t get an answer. Kinski’s is a sort of art space / café / club / whatever, and it’s pretty small and the crowd seems to all know each other. So it was a bit awkward for me to walk into this small, socially-connected space, walk around and conspicuously look for someone who’s not there, and then leave. Anyway, I wrote off that part of the night and headed off to meet the rest of the crew.

Just as I’m getting to the U-Bahn station, I get a call from Donna saying that the lineup is 200m long and looks to be about 3 hours of wait. It’s fucking cold, so they decide to head to Maria am Ostbahnhof instead. Janine, meanwhile, decides to head home and sleep instead, with the promise of joining us later at Berghain. And so I hop on the U-Bahn and head towards our new destination.

1h30: Spreepiraten @ Maria am Ostbahnhof

After a rather long and cold walk from the Jannowitzbrücke U-Bahn station to the club, wait in line for about 20 minutes and then pay the excessive cover (12€) to get in. 12€ for Berghain? Sure. For Maria am Ostbahnhof? Well, it better be on par with Berghain…

OK, so the club wasn’t as magical as the Berghain/PanoramaBar complex, but it was still a pretty cool club. Before the emergence of OstGut (which would eventually become Berghain) and Watergate, Maria am Ostbahnhof was apparently the central spot in Berlin for techno connoisseurs. The music programming had gone in an odd direction by the time I got to Berlin this past summer, with mostly electro-rock events and b-list local DJs, so I was never really tempted to visit the place. So it was high time I check this place out.

The space itself is pretty nice, especially in the back room, which has a pattern of diagonal cubes stuck to the wall behind the DJ in a way that casts really lovely shadows but also absorbs some of the sound and prevents slap-echoes. All around the club, they made good use of light projections to give the interior a unified theme; the theme for tonight: black-and-white silhouettes of unmarked playing cards.

The sound system itself was pretty good, especially in the main room. From the side near the main bar, the sound was loud but not uncomfortable. From the center of the dancefloor, the sound was impressively strong but not overwhelming. In the second room, on the other hand, the treble tended to be a bit too shrill. Thank goodness for earplugs!

The crowd was pretty mixed, mostly a combination of the late-twenties/thirties crowd that you see at Berghain & Watergate along with a late-teen / early-twenties crowd that seemed more like “casual partygoers” than avid fans of a particular DJ or scene. Of course, I’m generalizing here; when I was 17 and raving in Ontario, I already had pretty specific tastes; but nonetheless I had the feeling that the younger folks in the crowd were there to party first and see a specific DJ second, while the older folks acted more like they were attending a concert of a particular artist. Interestingly enough, at Berghain the crowd is almost entirely late-twenties and older, and yet you can still play this same game of “why did you come here tonight?” with the crowd: some are there for a particular DJ, some are there because it’s Berghain and they couldn’t imagine going anywhere else, and some are there because they want to party and this is the place to do it with a great deal of intensity.

Anyway, I wasn’t there for very long, but I caught the opening set by Larsson, which was pretty solid, and the first half of Alexander Kowalski’s live set, which was pretty strong and made great use of melodic fragments to suture his live set together.

So by 3h30 Bob and Donna have headed off to sleep and get ready for Berghain later that morning, while Fantômette and her crew disappear at around the same time. Another friend of mine (a close friend of a roommate from last summer) was going out with her crew to that party at the Kindl brewery later in the morning and I was determined to finally see her (after several near-misses since last summer), so I stayed at Maria for a couple more hours.

”Nice Guy!”:On the dancefloor, I run into a guy on the dancefloor who seems to be having a great time. At a particular high-point of the music, we both start pumping our fists in the air and then make eye contact. From there he offers me his beer and we exchange some brief remarks on the music. I tell him I’m from Canada and he says he’s from Rostock, in the north of Germany. He’s clearly high as a kite on a 200km lead, as his face is making pronounced contortions that I would associate with some very strong, “mashy” ecstasy.

I go away and come back a few minutes later and he appears next to me again. He offers me more of his beer, and then we dance some more and share more of those wordless glances that both check to see if the other person is in the same affective place as you are, and also prompt the other person to somehow respond. The current title of my dissertation starts with “Can You Feel It, Too?”, and this is sort of the look and the encounter that I’m thinking of when I quote that phrase; these are glances that ask questions but also answer them: “Did you just hear that?” “Yes I did!” “Isn’t this amazing?” “It sure is!” “Are you feeling this right now?” “Totally!”

Anyway, the crowd is packed and we’re being squeezed, but suddenly he sees a pocket of space in the crowd and gestures for me to follow him and dance next to him. When I reach him, he smiles and puts an arm around my shoulders as I put an arm around his waist, and we dance like that for a while.

For the next few minutes, he’ll find another spot on the dancefloor that he deems somehow better, then pull me over to it, and then continue to exchange gestures of affection, including offering beer and cigarettes, asking how I’m feeling, making ‘small talk’ about where we’re both from, hugging me, draping his arm across my shoulders and clutching me to his chest (he’s much taller than me), and even occasionally trying to engage me in hip-bumping and ass-slapping (we weren’t very co-ordinated in that regard).

By the time we had migrated to the front of the crowd, he had introduced me to most of his other 5 friends, none of them by name but rather always, “This is my best friend!” Then he would tell them I was from Canada and then we’d have a short conversation about Canada over the din of the music. Invariably, they would immediately offer me their drinks or their cigarettes.

At several points during this encounter, as my new buddy and I would look over at each other at the same time during a particularly exciting moment in the music, he would yell in my ear, “You’re a nice guy! I like you very much!” Now, this was in his somewhat-rusty English, so I’m guessing that he meant this in a more platonic way, but regardless: he was expressing feelings of warmth and attachment to a guy that he just met half an hour ago.

Just as I was thinking of leaving to catch up with my friend at the brewery party, he leans into me and says, “If some guy…gives you…any problems, you tell me.” Charmed but also a bit disturbed by the implications of this gesture of protectiveness, I said, “Thanks, but I’m not the sort of person to have problems with guys in clubs.” He immediately answers, “Of course! You’re a nice guy. I don’t think you would ever hurt anybody. I like you.” And then a hug. It’s not necessarily true that I don’t have problems with other people on the dancefloor (see 2 Fridays ago in Paris LINK), but I took this to be a sort of compliment and thanked him. The topic of discussion was uncomfortably serious and violent for me, but he seemed to be wanting to articulate intimacy to me in an idiom of protectiveness that I just wasn’t used to. Most of my friends are jokingly referential when they say, “I got yo’ back.” They’re not about to beat up a stranger for crossing me.

Anyway, it was past 4h30 and it seemed like the right time to head over to the Kindl Brauerei party. I might’ve been tempted to let the party slide and go directly to Berghain (or sleep), but I was really determined to see this friend of mine. I told my new buddy that I would be “right back.” It was a lie, but it was simpler and smoother than explaining my itinerary for tonight, and then resisting as he tried to convince me to stay with him. It’s pretty common to have these moments of passing, glancing contact, so I figured that he wouldn’t be too distressed if I just disappeared.

So I headed out and made my way towards Ostbahnhof, only to remember that the S-Bahn doesn’t run between Ostbahnhof and Jannowitzbrücke at this hour. I walked to Jannowitzbrücke and realized that the southbound platform for the U8 is out over service for renovations, so I walked down to Heinrich-Heine Straße. There was a lot of walking involved.

5h30: Champagnerama @ Kindl Brauerei

On the way down on the U-8, a group of very drunk and rowdy guys (and one gal) get on at Kottbusser Tor, clutching large bottles of beer in their hands. They shout-sing some song loudly every few minutes, and otherwise engage in some loud and slurred conversation that I could barely make out. Standing near me is another young German, quietly watching the goings-on. Every few minutes, we’ll exchange glances and eyebrow-waggles and then go back to watching them nearly make fools of themselves and annoy everyone in the train car. At a moment when the other guys aren’t paying attention, he says (in English), “Sorry.” I shrug my shoulders and say, “Normal,” implying that this was par for the course on a Saturday night (this word has a slightly different meaning in German). He shakes his head, saying, “No, it’s never normal.”

I get off at Boddinstraße and try to surreptitiously follow some folks who look like party people, since I don’t know exactly where the brewery is. They lead me to their apartment instead. Yay! So much for that strategy. I ask some random guy walking down the street and thankfully he gives me directions.

As I’m approaching the Alte Kindl Brauerei, a guy coming in the other direction stops and tells me that it’s not worth trying to get in, the building’s already at capacity. Well, great. I wasn’t about to give up without laying eyes on the situation, but I thanked him for the warning.

When I got in front of the building, there was a small lineup of 30-40 people, but it was barely moving. There was something like a “one in, one out” policy in effect, but it was even slower, since they had to worry about people coming back into the party. The system at most clubs in Berlin is that once you’ve paid the entry, you have the right to return and skip the line as long as the club is open.

So I send a text message to my friend to see if she’s still coming and get in line. I had hoped that she might say, “Screw it! Let’s just all go to Berghain.” But instead, she just told me she’d be getting there an hour or two later. Dammit.

While in line, I made friends with two Irish boys standing next to me. One of them thought that I was American, and when I corrected him, he apologized profusely and said, “Well, now you can call us British and we can’t get mad.” Fair enough, although I don’t think there’s quite the same animosity between Canada and the US.

After a while, two kids coming out of the club offered to give their admission bracelets to the Irish guys, so that they could skip the line. They gave it a try, but the bouncer actually pulled on their bracelets to see if they had been removed before. When they easily came apart, they were sent back to the line.

I got some amusement while waiting in line by watching the Irish boys get increasingly incensed with the rampant queue-jumping going on. On both the British and Irish isles, there’s a great degree of respect for the etiquette of lining up, and violating it is often treated as a grave ethical breach. You can seriously get your ass kicked in the UK over jumping the lineup.

This just got more amusing when a really large group of Greek partygoers showed up and just walked up to where we were standing. They lamely struck up conversation with a few people standing in front of us, and then acted as if they belonged there. Apparently, one of the Irish boys used to date a Greek guy and the relationship ended very badly, and so he was suddenly projecting all of his resentment onto the hapless ringleader of these partygoers.

Of course, rather than yell and hurl insults, the Irish lads decide to be passive-aggressive. One of them introduces himself to the ringleader and asks, “So where are you guys from?” Then the other pipes in, “Do you come from a country where you don’t usually wait in lines? Because the line starts back there, not here. I understand that might be hard to grasp.” It had no effect, but it amused me.

Lots of pushing and crowding. The two Irish boys get in before me as the lineup/crowd converges. I’m getting squeezed in by a group of annoying Spaniards behind me.

The bouncers change shifts just as I’m at the front of the line. The new bouncer asks me if I’m alone and then asks me where I’ve been before this. I tell him Maria am Ostbahnhof, and he looks me up and down, and then lets me in. WTF? The previous bouncer hadn’t been refusing anybody at the door and then suddenly I get to the front of the line and he’s replaced by Mr. Door Policy. Anyway, I don’t know if saying “Maria am Ostbahnhof” rather than Berghain or Wateragte helped me or hindered me, but I got in.

Well, the location was definitely cool. I mean, it’s a dilapidated beer factory turned into a massive party complex. Almost the entire event takes place downstairs in a series of underground rooms. In most cases, the original fixtures of the rooms are left intact, including massive brass vats poking up through the floor, piping going every which way, tiled drains and so on. Nonetheless, they did include some nice touches of décor, including cylindrical lights hanging behind the DJ booth in one of the main rooms, and a sort of multi-colored tic-tac-toe board hanging behind the DJ in the other big room. The sound was pretty good in the lower two rooms, while the upper room seems to be more devoted to chill-out music or something like that. I’m pretty sure Jens Bond was spinning in the larger room, but I could be wrong.

Upstairs, the coat-check is full and so I have the dubious pleasure of spending the next few hours with my jacket on and my scarf still wrapped around me. Great. At least the drinks are relatively cheap.

While dancing, some guy asks me if I have any rolling papers. I say no, sorry. He asks for tobacco. I say no, sorry. Then he looks at me for a moment, and says “Ja, ja” sarcastically, as if I was clearly lying and then stalks off angrily. Lay off the speed, buddy.

I sit down on the ledge of what I must presume used to be some sort of drainage pit. I’m pretty sure that it’s nastily dirty, but I’m tired and I tell myself that jeans were made for these sorts of conditions. A moment later, a guy taps my shoulder and says, “What are you doing, sitting in all this crap?! Here, I have a bunch of those plastic bags you use to collect dog shit. Sit on one of them the way I am.” And he handed me one and pointed to how he had laid one out for himself. I smiled, thanked him, and sat back down.

He was a friendly chap, so we chatted for a bit. When he heard that I was from Canada, he suddenly got very enthusiastic. Apparently, he had once wanted to become a hockey player in the NHL, and his favourite team was Les Canadiens. I couldn’t follow everything he said, but he was certainly happy to have met a Canadian, it seemed.

At that moment, I get a text message from my friend. She’s here! And she wants to know where to meet. I tell her in the hallway between the two main rooms, say goodbye to the would-be hockey player and make my way over. A few minutes later, I’m reunited with my friend and she drags me over to where most of the rest of her friends are.

Her ex-boyfriend was there and clearly out of his gourd, because he greeted me as if we were long lost buddies, rather than just guys who happened to know the same two women. He was never this affectionate last summer, perhaps because of the tension between him, his ex-girlfriend and my former roommate, but voilà: he hugged me tightly, cupped my jaw in his hands, made lingering eye contact, and then promptly presented me with a bottle of poppers. Yech, but thanks, I suppose. One tentative sniff of that crap reminded me of why I hate that stuff.

Before I could talk to her any more, my friend disappeared and I couldn’t find her for an hour. Instead, I hung around with her ex-bf as we migrated from one room to another, dancing and drinking. Eventually, I texted her and asked her where she was and she said she was behind the “DJ pult” (DJ booth). Really? I ran into one of her other friends and we both wandered through both rooms, trying to find her. There was no ‘behind’ the DJ booth in the second room, and the first room had only a small backstage area that was clearly closed off. Once I saw her ex-bf wander out from behind the stage, though, I put two and two together. This chick is well-connected.

I eventually found her, distributing lines of speed to all of her friends. Yay! Sorta. I finally managed to chat with her, but not without the bouncer trying to bounce me out of the area. He wasn’t at all concerned that people were doing lines, but he didn’t want random strangers backstage. Once he saw that I was with her, he backed off but then started harassing her about leaving. Feh.

Once we were finally shooed out onto the dancefloor near the bar, I hung around with my friend for a while as she talked about some very difficult and complicated romantic conflicts she had had last summer. This exchange happened as we stood next to the bar near the front of the main room, surrounded by her friends who were all dancing and chatting happily. I was really glad to be able to talk to her and give her some support, but it all seemed really incongruous to the context. On the other hand, if there’s ever a place where you can talk about personal stuff and not be overheard / noticed, it’s at a loud, crowded club.

My friend and her party disappeared into another corner to do more lines of speed, and I eventually caught up with them. When I did, I told her that I would be gone for a short while to find my friends and convince them to come back to the brewery party with me. Again, I was lying to make a departure that would otherwise involve lots of cajoling and pressure.

This time, on my way out, I treat myself to a cab. I’ve had enough walking for a while, thank you.

9h30: Berghain

I got to Berghain at about 9h30 and there was (thankfully) no lineup to be seen. The bouncer let me in without so much as a blink, and I was upstairs and dancing in no time. Bob and Donna were already there, along with Foster and the German galpal of Janine. Janine herself wasn’t due to come by until 13h00 or so (she didn’t actually show up until 16h00 or 17h00, but she’s perennially late). Fantômette and her crew never showed up, though, despite my frequent text messages. At some point around noon, I realize that I’m the only person that hasn’t slept tonight. Everyone else I knew had gone home and taken a substantial nap before coming to Berghain. Meanwhile, I had been at that brewery party.

So as I got there, a DJ called I:Cube was still spinning. His set was OK, mostly minimal techno with very little house influences, but it tended to be a bit same-y. That is, the tracks all tended to run together and yet the set also lacked continuity. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t complain; if I had heard that set any place other than Panorama Bar, I would’ve been thrilled.

Prosumer and Steffi were listed to do a long back-to-back set from 13h00 to 20h00, but that was complicated a bit by the fact that Steffi appeared to be drunk and/or very high. She still managed to beatmatch occasionally and she was certainly able to manipulate the mixer to play with the levels, but in the end Prosumer did the lion’s share of the mixing. Their set started off a bit too mellow and heavy on the vocal-house, but by about 14h00 or so things started to get pretty good and for at least a couple of hours I was having a fantastic time. I appreciated that there was a bit of alternation between more housey minimal tracks and straight-ahead techno-minimal tracks. But also, I think I was impressed by skill of both Prosumer and Steffi to manipulate the EQ levels to create climaxes and breakdowns and to otherwise give shape to the set.

Meanwhile, down in the Berghain room since about 9h00, Monika Kruse was giving a marathon, 8-hour set. I would head down every once in a while to check it out, but I rarely stuck around for longer than 20 or 30 minutes. Her mixing was flawless, her demeanor was always very self-controlled and professional, and her selection was definitely appropriate for the Berghain room, but I find the typical sound of that room a bit too heavy-handed and pounding, and so I was having the same problem’s with Kruse’s set. Very well done, but just not as fun for me as the sound in Panorama Bar.

Nonetheless, Kruse gets major props from me for dropping that remix of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” which came out relatively recently. It was remixed first by Booka Shade and M.A.N.D.Y., and then re-remixed by various other DJs on the release (on Get Physical Music). The remix I heard that night was the Reboot 20 Cubans remix, methinks. Anyway, it was great.

So by 20h00, nd_baumecker started his set up in Panorama Bar. Bob and Donna had just left, and Janine and her friend were about to leave as well. Nonetheless, I kept going for a little while longer to hear the first hour of his set (which was excellent but just a bit harder than I normally like) and then threw in the towel at 21h00. Considering that I had started my night with drinks at Fantômette’s place at 20h00 the previous day, I was feeling pretty proud of my marathon partying. I didn’t quite make it to the closing of Berghain (which can run as late as midnight Sunday), but I did pretty well for myself.

The ride back home on transit felt very long and just a bit painful (24 hours of dancing will do that to you), but it just made things feel all the better when I finally got home. I took a shower before even approaching the bed, and I also made myself a few eggs and a bit of tea. Essen ist wichtig! And so, at about 22h00 Sunday night, I went to bed at a “normal” hour, having not slept at all the night before.

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